To our wonderful community; our families, our friends, fans, Facebook followers, funders and partners.
A month ago, our world looked very different, our neighbourhoods looked very different and our idea about what the future held for us looked very different.
And here we now are, over a week into lock-down, facing the biggest challenge of our lifetime.
I’m writing this to you from home, as my 15 month old baby crawls around underneath my desk attempting to eat crayons, and while my 8 year old sits downstairs researching his new favourite obsession, Slash from Guns and Roses (!)
At a time when we need community, and hugs, the most to help us process the enormous change, we are facing weeks of isolation and uncertainty. We will all have had moments of quiet despair, tiny moments of gratitude and, I imagine, lots of anxiety and fear. We are all in the same boat, but as one of my wise team members said, we are experiencing what life is like in that boat, in very different ways.
There is no doubt whatsoever that COVID-19 will impact on those who are already hit hard by inequality, 10 times over. This is heartbreaking.
We feel that our mission to use the powers of creativity and human connection to change lives is more needed, and will be needed more and more as the months go on. I have been so moved by the videos being made from all around the world that show how creative expression has been used to keep people’s faith alive and help those who feel isolated, feel some sense of being remembered and cared for. Laughter feels like one of the most powerful remedies right now.
This week we have made the difficult decision to press pause on our Youth Music funded project, ‘Music Against Prejudice’, our Children in Need funded project and our singing project. We now have 6 members of our team on furlough, which means that they are still employed and we can retain their jobs through the government job retention scheme. These are tough decisions but necessary ones to safeguard the work we do for the long term. We also feel that translating all our work onto digital platforms will restrict the amount of face to face time we give to the people on our projects when we reopen. We have done this because like many of our charity partners across the county, we face huge financial risks to our charity due to closing our two centres in Cowley, which we rely on for venue hire income. Overnight, we have lost £30,000 in core funds.
If you are in the position to support us at this time, and feel able, you can visit our website and give through our link
Every single pound will be very gratefully received.
Ark-T wants to do all we can to support the response to the Corona Virus and I want to share with you how we are responding:
Taking Care of Our People
We are prioritising the health and wellbeing of our team through daily zoom check ins and are sending out a strong message that emotional and mental health comes first. We will be using external offers of help to provide resiliency coaching for those of us who will remain in work to ensure we are resourced and able to keep ourselves well.
We are thinking hard about how best to advocate for local artists and freelancers who are vital to our centre and to our projects. We will be ensuring that paid work is made available to them as soon as possible and be supporting them with writing funding applications to the Arts Council and other hardship funds. We will also be offering telephone support to talk through any issues or concerns.
Providing food to those in need in OX4
Within a week of our centres closing, we worked hard to set up a response to food poverty through the brand new Cowley Community Larder:
We are partnering with SOFEA and Oxford Together (big thanks to you both for being legendary frontline services!) to provide a community larder to those who are struggling to access food and/or are struggling financially. We are also able to deliver boxes of perishables and non perishables to those who are in self-isolation. The Cowley Community Larder is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 2pm. We will be partnering with our dream queens Marie and Sandra from their social enterprise Waste2Taste to provide hot meals for vulnerable and isolated people soon.
Understanding the impact of COVID-19
We are currently working on understanding the impact on the participants on our projects, we are alert to the growing risk on people’s mental health and we know this is going to make the inequality in Oxford worse. We will be speaking directly to participants and people who access our community larder to build intelligence and feed this into the wider partnership work happening in Oxfordshire so we can respond better and faster to needs as they emerge.
Working in Partnership
Partnership with mental health services, children’s and adult social care, the wider youth sector, our fellow charities and JBBC who share the building with us, will be more important than ever. Ark-T is involved in discussions with partners across the county to ensure a joined-up approach. We want to avoid replicating projects and work to try and support each other’s organisations through this time too.
And finally, I am keen to hear from you directly to find out how COVID 19 is affecting you and your family. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a phone call.
I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the Ark-T team who have displayed huge integrity and dedication to the children, young people, families and adults on our projects. I want to thank our chairperson Helen for her support and trustee Hazel for her HR expertise. I want to celebrate the powerhouse co-CEO Micaela, who has been steering this ship with me during this unprecedented time.
I want to express my thanks to our funders who have provided comfort, reassurance and clarity of support at this very difficult time. Their faith in us is helping us to keep going.
We promise that ARK-T will do all within our powers to provide support and short term relief for those in Littlemore, Cowley, Blackbird Leys and surrounding wards who are affected by COVID-19 and will keep you regularly updated as we wait to hear on applications which are already going in to funders. Thank you to everyone reading this who passionately believes that the arts is a healing force for good in this world and that this magic ingredient, combined with building friendships and community, is what makes life worth living. We will get through this, and when we do, we will hold the mother of all community art parties at ARK-T and EVERYONE will be invited.
With warm wishes to you all,
April 1st 2020